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- Story Listed as: True Life For Adults
- Theme: Survival stories / Success stories
- Subject: History / Historical
- Published: 06/09/2019
Don't Drink the WaterBorn 1944, M, from Independence, Oregon, United States
Don’t Drink The Water
My heart was thumping as it abounded in my chest cavity. It was as if it wanted out of its rib cage. I sat on a porch step to stabilize my metabolism. Not even 50, my thought was perhaps it was a heart attack, all due to defending my little snitty racist remark.
In July, 1990, I had to move irrigation pipe from one field to another on our Oregon, cherry orchard. Irrigation pipe has its own technology story, a mix of fittings and piping which laid out on the ground, connect together like an erector set. The female connections include a rubber band seal inside When the male end is inserted, it remains loosie goosy until the water pressure builds up. With sufficient pressure, fitting by fitting pop lock together and water squirts out the rotating sprinkler heads. Each connection has a little top notch to hold them together until the water pressure seals the connections.
The pipes are laid oud in a 40-foot width pattern with upright sprinkler nozzles at the end of each 40-foot length of pipe. If a mistake is made putting the fittings together or the little top notch not is set correctly, a geyser at that connection results. To stop the geyser plume, the pump must be turned off and then restarted once the connection is reset.
Irrigation time is set by a pump timer. When the timer shuts the water off, the connections relax and as the water drains are loosie goosy again.
To irrigate the next section, the little top notches holding the connections together are lifted, the male end is pulled out, the pipe is lifted on a shoulder and moved.
Near our 100-acre farm is a real agricultural operation of 1,200-acres. It includes hops, hazel nuts, row crops and most importantly, a Mexican farm worker’s camp. When in need of help I’d drive my pickup to the camp.
That afternoon, I drove over and flash a 20-dollar bill which spoke clearer than my limited high school Spanish and their lack of English. Two, Luiz and Jesus, jumped in the back of the pickup to help me move pipe. As a beginning farmer, I was still without a tractor to mow, the grass in my orchard fields. By July the grass was knee high.
The pipes start out at 4-inches in diameter from the well head and drop down to 3-inchs for sprinkler lines. They are of 40-foot lengths made of aluminum. At one end is a ¾ inch galvanized riser pipe with a rain-bird sprinkler head which twit, twit throws out water as it turns. The pipes aren’t unduly heavy but are awkward to carry. You balanced a pipe on a shoulder allowing for the extra weight on the sprinkler head end and guide it with your hands between the trees to the next field being irrigated. That’s the idea but of course reality is a bit different. The sprinkler riser swings down and catches in the tall grass and the 40-feet length jammed between the trees which are set 20-feet apart.
The pipe on the August afternoon needed to be moved the distance of about a football field. I showed my two compadre helpers how to disassemble the pipe, and how to reassemble it. As farm workers, of course, they knew more about it than me.
I moved the first 40-foot pipe length to show them the field to be watered and to start the next erector set irrigation pattern. As I went back to get the next length of pipe, my two compadres were lugging a single length of pipe with one at each end. I stopped them.
“No, no! No dos hombres una pipa! Una hombre, una pipa!”
My attempt to say, move a pipe length by yourselves, not together.
With their, “si, si’” and nodded understanding I moved on for another pipe to move.
At the pipes to be moved, there was a lone little 20-foot straggler.
I didn’t want to wade back and forth through knee-high grass just for it so once I got a 40-footer balanced, I set the 20-footer on my other shoulder and lugged back the 2 pipes. When I met them coming back to retrieve pipe they exclaimed.
Oh! Una hombre dos pipas!
Or, wow, one hombre and two pipes.
Porque, me gringo!
Translated roughly, because I’m white Americano!
As I returned, I was met by them each struggling to carrying two, 40-foot long pipes.
They were never going to be outdone by a gringo.
So, the race contest was on. I had to prove gringo superiority.
Back and forth we went, each time carrying two pipes of 40-foot length, none willing to admit inferiority. Pipes became entangled in the grass, they bumped into trees, they fell off shoulders but neither gringo or Mexican would admit defeat. While I was bigger, they were half my age and weight, was not my friend.
Gringo me, never admitted defeat. I moved two pipes a turn but it was obvious I’d lost. Panting and sweating on the steps of the house, I forked over my $20.
Once my heart beat approached the upper range of normal, I reminisced about another gringo stupidity I’d proven.
Between my sophomore and junior years at college, (June/July, 1964), I spent a month traveling Mexico with money saved in excess of what I needed while going to college, a $300 bankroll. I first drove to Tucson, Arizona in my 1960 Austin Healy Sprite with is slightly larger than sewing machine engine, to an older brother’s house out in a little desert community. He was well versed about Mexico travel do’s and don’ts. His primary tidbits of advice were don’t drink the water, if a policeman is in a café or bar buy him a drink and never run from a cop as he will not chase you. He will simple shoot you. I left my car in his care and took busses south as another of his tidbits was don’t drive in Mexico.
I knew I was as tough as any Mexican and didn’t need to worry about drinking water so I skipped that tidbit.
I genuflected through the border at Nogales and headed south to Ensenada. There, free to drink at age 20, I promptly drank too much, crashed a Mexican high school graduation party, ate the shrimp from street food vendors and sloshed it down with water from the nearest tap.
Recuperating from too much tequila in the morning didn’t prepare me for the coming on sought of gut microbes. It took until I got to Hermosillo, a couple of days later, to build up to a proper population count for their attack.
In Hermosillo I’d met a couple of Texans who knew their way around town. As part of my new found freedom, I they guided me to a casa of ill repute. The large statue of The Virgin Of Guadalupe next to the bed was disconcerting but I closed my eyes to get my pesos worth.
Then it began, God’s wrath for my wantonness. I barely made it to the bano of the house where I desecrated the toilet with accumulated intestinal buildup. It had a servant to assist as was common but from the noise in my stall he left me alone. I gave him extra pesos for my toilet deposit stench and clean up.
Enfeeble back in the taxi, the Texans whooping and yelling over their pesos conquest with the senoras dropped me off at my hovel hotel with the advice to kill the vermin within me that ailed me with a bottle of tequila, a sure cure for Montezuma’s revenge. I don’t know how many microbes died from alcohol poising but I nearly did. I know not all died because they became my travel companions for the rest of the trip.
My conclusion I wasn’t Mexican enough to drink Mexican water shifted when I learned Mexicans don’t get sick drinking tap water because they don’t drink it. After their tequila binge recovery, the gut microbes multiplied and took control of everything from my stomach on out. I couldn’t figure which end to put on the toilet, my head or rear as I switched from vomiting to pooping. I also reckoned if I didn’t eat, I’d have to less of both. By dieting, I made south to Mazatlán.
Mazatlán has beautiful beaches and a plethora of inns and hotels so I settled down and treated myself to a middle stratum peso inn. I managed to get out to a small desert town desert bull ring where want to be bullfighters slaughtered bulls in a pageantry of gore. As amateurs it typically took them 3 or 4 sword thrusts to put the beasts out of their misery after they’d been properly tortured. I the locale was authentic with one in the audience having an old Springfield rifle strapped on his back along with a couple of bandoliers of ammunition crisscrossing on his shoulders. In rural northern Mexico Panucho Villa was still a patron saint.
I also ensconced myself during the day on the beach in front of the grand Hotel de Ciema, snuck under one of their beach umbrellas. Eating sparingly, I managed a night out at a local bar in the downtown area but due to lack of nutrient intake it only took a few Pacifico beers to see the world they way I wanted it to be seen.
Sitting at a bar table, next to a slat glass window, I observed both the patrons and the passersby. The slat was tilted open. A Mexican hombre peered in to scan the bar scene. Seeing myself as the jovial gringo I was, I closed the slat on him.
He opened it again. To continue the game, I closed it to shut him out once more. The glass slat jerked open. His hand reached in. It held a revolver. He pressed it up against my cheek. In an instant of sobriety, I moved askance a little so the bullet would only take out teeth if he pulled the trigger. On a higher intellectual plane, I gave a stone drunk smile as one not worth the expenditure of a bullet.
Satisfied with my acquiescence of his superior macho, he pulled the gun back out. I let him scan to his satisfaction, as if encouraging him, which I was. Nixing the bar scene observed, he moved on down the street to check out another cantina. I decided it was time to head back to the inn for a good night’s sleep after 3 lacks of on the beach.
In the morning, the gut microbes on vacation, I was ready to eat a real breakfast. With forced fasting, I was traveling below budget. An Americano breakfast splurge at the Hotel de Ciema was appropriate, a $5 extravagance of eggs, toast, sausages and hash browns with squeezed orange juice, no water, please.
Still fit, back at the inn, it was “tourista” time for a museum tour. I didn’t think anyplace in Mexico was safe. I worried the housekeeper would ruffle through my stuff. I kept most valuables with me, including my traveler’s checks which had dwindled from 30 $10 ones to 25. I didn’t put all my eggs in a single basket and kept their receipt numbers and a few dollars hidden in a drawer.
While my proclivity was to be guarded, my wont was to be stupid. After the museum, I went to the beach. Feeling frisky, I bunched my pants, shirt, socks and shoes in a pile with watch and traveler’s checks tucked in a shoe and did a quick dip in the Sea of Cortez.
It was only a few minutes but after a dip and a hop out of the petit surf, the clothes pile was spewed on the sand. My clothing was there but watch, traveler’s checks and pocket pesos were gone, now the proud possessions of one of the ubiquitous Chiclets gum boy sellers
I shifted to survivor mode, reported my loss to the police, went to my inn, got my hidden stash traveler’s checks numbers and a few dollars. At the bank I reported my lost traveler’s checks and was informed it would take 3 days before I got new ones.
I left my luggage and checked out of the inn. The inn keeper assured me he would let me stay until my replacement checks showed up but I was afraid to be in debt in Mexico. It was summer, best to owe no one and sleep on the beach.
The exchange rate was 12 pesos to the dollar. I my cash stash was $5 US which gave me 60 pesos. To sleep on the beach insect repellant was necessary due to sand fleas which took 15 pesos. 5 pesos brought a pack of cheap Mexican cigarettes.40 pesos left 13 pesos a day with 2 bananas at a peso each, a loaf of bread at 4 pesos, a street taco at 5 pesos and a treat to look forward to each day, a Pepsi at 2 pesos and a lone peso for an unforeseen expense.
I slept on the beach in front of the Hotel de Ciena because its life guard slept there in a little tent beach shack which provided a measure of security. While employed to rescue unwary guest his vocation was preying on female gringos, his employment perk. To ensure snaring them, he was permissive on their appearance. He’d scored the day of my first night on the beach with an overly plump girl from Sweden and paid no attention to me.
What I didn’t factor in was he was ambidextrous sexually. When she moved on to her next tourista destination, his amorous interests switched to me.
My boy scout master, Pierre, was a homosexual pedophile, a pseudo French resistance freedom fighter from France and who told horrifying stories of the French-Indo Chinese War and daring escapes and killing of Nazi during WW 2 around the campfire which in hindsight he made up or read about. It was a Catholic scout troop and he always went o communion at mass. None turned him in because we knew no better. Things were different back then.
We were pre puberty, uninterested sexually to his ardor and learned to deflect his fondling advances. He had us make Indian costumes and we danced at social events, semi-naked, to his drum beat with the respectable groups we performed for not having a clue it was all part of his elaborate fetish. I don’t know about the other scouts but by puberty I’d move on past scouting and no longer saw Pierre. He was just part of childhood growing up.
I’d been hit on a few times by homosexuals thereafter but just brushed them off, not as a homophobic, just flat rejections and they moved on.
The amorous amigo lifeguard was different. He wouldn’t take no for an answer and wooed me through the night. It was a battle of fending off sand fleas and the life guard. As a professional seducer, he had good lines of persuasion but I kept my homosexual virginity until the dawn met the night and the sea of Cortez was again visible. While debilitated from dysentery, high school football and wrestling still left me a difficult rape prey so I was never afraid.
After the 3rd night, replacement traveler’s checks arrived at the bank/ I was a rich gringo again. I retrieved my room at the inn. The inn keeper showed me my plight had edged itself onto the local paper. To celebrate, I returned to the Hotel del Ciena for a repast of spaghetti. After a full lunch, I looked back to the beach. Near the lifeguard tent was a guy my age putting on a San Jose State College sweat shirt.
I walked over, introduced myself and found a travel companion also heading south to Mexico City my vague trip destination. He already had an older travel companion from San Francisco to make it the 3 of us. It was soon apparent they were lovers but I played naïve to their innuendos. For me, it was someone to share expenses, talk to and expand travel experience including information on things to see.
My naïve acting appeared to fool them but in hindsight, I suppose not. They probably were thinking I was a possible virgin conquest and schemed on how to make their move but couldn’t be overt in each other’s presence. I milked the situation simply playing dumb, our pretenses continued until we parted.
We took the bus and train south from Mazatlán with stops along the way and with Guadalajara the most authentic Mexican city visited. Having travel companions not only provided travel savings but also group protection from banditos.
In Mexico City, we stayed in an old, 4 story masonry, hotel in the city center and radiated out to visit historic cathedrals and museums. As part of our pretense travel mode, I stayed in a separate bedroom while the lovers shared a big bed in another.
Reading a travel guide in my bed it became apparent someone was under the bed. Was I imagining it? No! Something was moving under the bed. I carefully got out of bed to expose whoever was there. Then it dawned on me. It was an earthquake.
Earthquakes are not uncommon in California where I grew up but this was an uncommon one. On the 3rd evening in our sojourn in Mexico City, July 6th, 1964 a 7.4 Ricter Scale earthquake struck the state of Guerrero just to the southwest. Bigger than ever experienced in California, it caused over 40 deaths and panic.
Standing next to the bed I thought.
“Crap, I’m on the 3rd floor of an old, 4-story, masonry building, a very bad place to be in an earthquake.”
I rushed, actual staggered, to the arch way between the bedrooms as often advised growing up in California if caught in the big one, the one always waited for which has never come. My travel companions joined me. They hugged one another. My next thought was.
“I’m going to die in a pile of rubble with homosexuals hugging one another.
My mind then shifted to curiosity to see where the cracks would first appear in the walls and floor. Back and forth the seismic waves tossed our now sea world. Each was accompanied with fear the it was the one which would tear the building apart, offset with hope it thee start of lesser waves.
It was probably all within 5 minutes but after what appeared a half hour, the waves shifted to smaller ones and then to a little shudder and it was back to terra firma. It was over.
We wanted out of the building. Opening the door, the atrium was packed with Mexicans on their knees praying fervently. It was the worst place to gather as the glass roof of the atrium would be the first to tumble down. Their prayers, however, were answered and we were all saved.
My travel companions and I hurriedly exited the building and went across the street to a 1-story restaurant that made American hamburgers. It was run by 2 brothers who got their grub stake following Mexican migrant farmworkers in the US selling them short-wave radios.
They’d arrive at farms on payday and put on Mexican short-wave channels and with a little Mariachi music sell out. They spoke good English and we argued politics with them, they convinced LBJ knocked off Kennedy.
My companions left the next day to continue past Mexico City to Guatemala leaving with some good advice for me. The suggested I buy a bottle of Kaopectate for dysentery instead of Pepto Bismo which only provided pink diarrhea stools.
Rolling over in bed the night after they left a Hopi Indian ring, I wore fell off my finger. I’d gone from 135 pounds to 110. It was the signal which said, go El Norte senor! An inventory of gringo dollars and pesos indicated a tight budget for train and bus fares to Tucson, Arizona and my older brothers place.
I guzzled a bottle of Kaopectate and headed north.
Sleeping on the train and busses Mexico left me. I few Mexicans would attempt conversation but soon departed due to my pronounced odor. The American flag at the border was a delight to see with the border patrol waving in me through as if I was a refugee which I was. From the Tucson bus depot, I trekked with my last reserves to outside the city and my brother’s place.
There, I found his place empty, he’d moved. I put one of my few dimes in a phone booth and called his work place and got his new address, an apartment in town. It was a long hot trek for July in Tucson. I attempted hitchhiking but experienced only cars speeding up as they approached. Finally, one pulled over. It was an elderly couple, the last type one would think would pick up a hitchhiker.
As I got in the back seat, the man explained.
“Son, we’ve never picked up a hitchhiker before. We saw you and realized we couldn’t call ourselves Christians if we just passed you by.”
They drove me to my brother’s, a go-go apartment complex. He wasn’t home.
I staggered to the swim pool area and laid on a chase lounge as dusk came. It was the end of rope. I didn’t care anymore.
Around midnight my shoulder was shaken. My brother heard from work I was about and rescued me. The next day the doctor did poop samples to determine if it was amoebic dysentery which is incurable or bacterial. The uncertain prognoses was, it’s probably bacterial.
After a week’s recover it was back on the road to California and work. For at least 2 years I had the advantage of being able to lay out a silent, lethal, gas to disrupt any social gathering yet pretend it wasn’t me.